ScienceOnline2009: Race in Science, online and offline

i-f875c0b07d9b3cb6229668554781b35a-alice.jpgAcmegirl and DLee facilitated a ScienceOnline2009 session about race and science, stemming from what happened last year where the session on gender and race really focused on gender and not race. I've finally written up my notes, and what follows is a rough summary of the conversation. For those who attended, please feel free to annotate -- and note again the presence of the new "Diversity in Science" Carnival! More after the jump.

DLee started with talking about the image of scientists, and in particular the question of why images persist that scientists are white men. One way is celebrating the diversity that is indeed already present in the room. There were some comments that came up directly about the Draw-A-Scientist test

Within the African-American community, DLee argued that blogging is really popular, but it seems to be mostly political cultural commentary (similar to white blogging). DLee feels isolated within the college-educated Black community in terms of - where are the scientists? Within these directories, can we have a science/technology menu? Most of the commentary within the tech label is about consumer products.

What about the value of showing images of diverse folks as scientists in journals or textbooks or similar? Is there a risk of reinforcing women as objects? Pat argues that we need to include the research of the people whose images are included, otherwise things are just made worse.

Janet brought up the goal of helping bloggers of color just get through the science pipeline.

Zuska talked about a program at Kansas State that took minority girls to job sites, and what the girls talk about so much afterwards was that they saw the women as "real people" whereas they weren't really considered "real" before. The girls noticed what the women wore, did they have friends, what were their hobbies - so having the girls meet these women helped develop stories of real people for the girls.

ScienceWoman noted that, as Samia has argued, by asking minority bloggers to recruit more minorities to blog there is an additional burden placed on them. Is encouraging those behind you to follow in your footsteps an important mandate for minority bloggers, or what are the self-preservation aspects of blogging in these ways? Acmegirl responded that one of the main reasons she started blogging was "hello! There are people like me out there, I'm here!" She never thought of it as a responsibility. This was in slight contrast to DLee, who asked why we have so few Black PhDs who go to research 1 institutions, is there a calling for that? She finds herself concerned with replacing herself with kids who look like her.

Some comments: from a person at the back, a lot of problems (and potential solutions) start in schools - the textbooks have been published in 80s-90s, with dated and ignorant material about the contributions of people of color. Another comment: someone's sister felt Othered in her program, with no social support, no one who could relate to her. She left the university, and changed her field to education to help minorities get into science.

I suggested reconceptualizing what we consider STEM. Why isn't teaching science considered "science," particularly if it is so critical to the production of future scientists? Is it significant that the areas where people of color are working are not considered or accepted as science? I suggested also normalizing blogging as part of academic life, so that bloggers of color don't have to add to their jobs but instead can blog knowing it's an accepted part of academia. I also suggested developing ways to expect all faculty to have as part of their mission a sense of responsibility for reaching out to minority students and bloggers. Someone else pointed out that part of blogging is not just putting yourself out there, but starting a conversation and being part of a community.

We talked about making visible invisible scientists - science professionals at all levels "count" as scientists, and broadening our definition of what we consider to be scientists or science.

We talked about inviting undergraduates to seminars - casting the net wide for future scientists. Someone argued that maybe doors may be considered "open" but that some folks need to be told about the open door by those who have already passed through - the people on the other side may not have noticed.

Someone asked, "But how do you start?" Zuska talked about just walking up to someone and start talking, be interested in them and their work. Acmegirl talked about expanding the definition of someone "like you."

Janet encouraged folks to listen to your students, ask how they're doing in other courses, validate they're not crazy, be excited to see where they're going to go, that their troubles are part of needing to get a skill set, and other people have had to learn these skills too.

Some resources that were brought up in the conversation:
DLee's blog
Delta Sigma Theta, SEE - "Science in Everyday Experiences" project. Members use existing networks as traditional sorority services to do public outreach on science - lots of teachers who can bring these experiences into the classroom - Kitchen chemistry, informal science education.
MARC - Minority Access to Research Careers - NIH-GMS supported program
National HBCU week - Abel tried to find bloggers, but now there's a network. Is there a way to do this amongst science bloggers - need a directory or carnival!!!

AND NOW... DLee has indeed started that carnival! Called "Diversity in Science," it encourages folks to contribute profiles of people of color in their fields. It will be held monthly, and will hopefully coordinate with Scientiae every so often. So get your thinking caps on, 'cause the first set of posts are due February 20. Submit your links here.

This was a great session - I hope they start a tradition of talking over such issues at ScienceOnline and elsewhere. Thanks to the moderators, and to folks who contributed ideas.


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The Carnival is a great idea. I recommend everyone look for one black scientist in their own field and write up a brief entry. One tends to turn up a lot of cool people. The impact of realizing which names from your field are attached to nonwhite faces makes the points about invisibility in a very pointed manner.

By DrugMonkey (not verified) on 04 Feb 2009 #permalink